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Pagosa Country can lead the way

It’s time to take a meaningful and big step forward when it comes to electric power — how it is produced and, eventually, how and by whom it is delivered.

It’s all the rage to talk about alternative energy sources, to discuss the future in terms of how the prevailing energy production system can and must be changed.

The LPEA directors have an opportunity to make a decision that could lead to a significant change in the way energy is produced and delivered in Pagosa Country. They have a chance to be part of what could be a groundbreaking set of developments — developments that could, if all the pieces fall into place, make this place a leader in a world transitioning from one way of making and delivering electrical power to another.

The directors are going to vote on whether or not to purchase power from the gasification plant being created by local businessman JR Ford and Renewable Forest Energy LLC. The company is already working in accord with a $4.5 million long-term forest stewardship contract with the U.S. Forest Service to remove saw timber, biomass and other materials from the San Juan National Forest and utilize it, in part, in a gasification process that can produce electricity with wood chips as the basic fuel.

LPEA and other member coops in the relationship with Tri-State Generation and Transmission currently have an agreement that they purchase only 5 percent of their power from sources other than Tri-State — i.e. “alternative” energy producers. LPEA has a plan to boost that amount to 20 percent by 2020. It’s time to move further by voting to do away with the 5 percent limit or, at least, demanding the Tri-State take on the 5 percent currently purchased by LPEA, some from sources outside the LPEA boundary area, allowing LPEA to purchase the Pagosa product. The Renewable Forest Energy plant, when fully operable, could produce as much as 5 megawatts of power — nearly all of LPEA’s current 5 percent and as much as 30 percent of the power now used in Archuleta County.

This is one aspect of how the power picture can change in the future, and it can get underway only if the directors begin to discard old models and methods, and limiting agreements and policies.

Further, the directors, though they come from across the coop area, should understand this local project has benefits that go far beyond simple power production: jobs, forest and watershed health, wildfire mitigation among them. The project is a winner for this county and could be the first step to something many talk about and few achieve: energy self-sufficiency.

If tests of geothermal resources near Pagosa Springs by Pagosa Verde (with town and county financial help) prove there is a large reservoir of water from which to draw heat, and a way is devised to use that heat to produce electrical power, this community could be on the threshold of becoming something unique in this country and, in fact, in the world. If these alternative energy sources could be combined and their output be successfully realized (Ford’s project is limited in terms of the amount of biomass available in any given period of time), they could provide all the power needed for Archuleta County. If this happens, and a local power authority is created, the area could break free from outside providers and be truly self-sufficient.

The first step has to be taken now. The LPEA directors need to see the future, and agree to help lead the way.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on December 12, 2013.